Nets and 76ers meet after Simmons-Harden trade


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Ben Simmons will be on the bench, boos raining down from every corner of his former home.

James Harden and Kyrie Irving will face off on the pitch, their explosive partnership having died out in just 13 months.

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A month after Harden and Simmons were traded in a blockbuster NBA trade, Brooklyn travels to Philadelphia on Thursday in what is perhaps more than the most high-profile game in the stretch race.

This one is personal.

“It’s going to be loud,” Nets star Kevin Durant said. “I’m sure Philadelphia fans and people watching the game and the media think it’s sort of a budding rivalry. So I imagine it’s going to feel like that.”

When those teams were last on the field together, Durant and Joel Embiid received challenging technical fouls in the final moments before Embiid waved the Nets off from home following the 76ers’ Dec. 30 win.

Things could be even more difficult now.

Trade deadline day was breakup day in Philadelphia and Brooklyn, with Simmons and Harden getting their wish to part ways with their teams when they were traded in a deal on Feb. 10. Simmons said the 76ers were aware of his desire to leave long before the end of last season. It’s unclear exactly when Harden soured on the Nets after only joining them in January 2021.

Nonetheless, Durant and Irving say they don’t blame him — even though it wasn’t until hours later that Durant declined to pick Harden in the All-Star Draft, leaving him to LeBron James with the final pick.

Durant said he understands if Harden, seeing Durant sidelined with a knee injury and Irving ineligible to play home games because he is not vaccinated against the coronavirus, decided that he had to go elsewhere to chase his first championship. Irving said he respects Harden’s decision.

“Like, we have a great friendship but it just didn’t work out,” Irving said. “I wish things were better communicated for all of us as men. But hey, like, no hard feelings for me or anyone else.”

Brooklyn Nets forward Ben Simmons sits on the bench during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the New York Knicks, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022, in New York City.
(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Everyone has to take Irving at his word, though it’s hard to imagine there’s more than a hint of resentment.

Harden has been great so far with the 76ers. Simmons is still not playing, hampered by back pain when he tried to beef up his conditioning. But he plans to be with his teammates on the Philadelphia bench, where some of the sport’s toughest fans can go wild over the player the Sixers took on as the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft.

Along with Embiid, he led the Sixers out of their losing era to the Eastern Conference’s best record last season. It was a good run, said one coach, Doc Rivers, would warrant a tribute video if the Sixers chose to give Simmons one.

“Ben has done a lot of good things here,” Rivers said. “It didn’t end well, did it, just like weddings and all sorts of other things don’t end well, do they? But Ben did a lot of good things here .”

Those good times are unlikely to be remembered on Thursday.

Philadelphia fans will likely remember Simmons’ lackluster and deadpan play in Game 7 of their second-round playoff series against Atlanta, when he let a late layup through that helped tip the game into the sense of the Hawks, followed by his refusal to dress for them again while citing mental health issues.

It might be easier to make fun of Simmons if he played, as he said he hoped to do after arriving in Brooklyn. But Philadelphia fans — who once booed and threw snowballs at Santa at a football game — can probably make Thursday’s situation work.

“Our fans are so quiet so I can’t imagine anything going on,” Rivers deadpanned.

With Embiid playing at MVP level and Harden providing an immediate boost, the Sixers are second in the East. The Nets are eighth and appear headed for the play-in, but showed just how dangerous they can be when Irving scored 50 points on just 19 shots in a win at Charlotte on Tuesday.

The atmosphere could be reminiscent of the angry crowds that greeted James in Cleveland after his first start for Miami, or Durant in Oklahoma City after leaving for Golden State in 2016.

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“It was a different situation because I had to play and shut people up every time I jumped,” Durant said. “But Ben doesn’t have their opportunity right now. He just has to sit there and take a bunch of people who are just kidding and throwing insults at him because he doesn’t want to play basketball for them anymore.”

But Durant said he wouldn’t give Simmons any advice, saying he’d have to experience it for himself and might even find some of it fun.

“I mean, the guy makes $40 million a year,” Durant said. “You could take that for 48 hours, for a few hours, and I’m sure Ben has that approach.”


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